NME After Print: Lea Salonga (Review)
As I entered Popejoy Hall for the Albuquerque leg of Lea Salonga’s Human Heart Tour, I knew that I was going to be walking into a night filled with the grace, entertainment, and perfect pitch that only the acclaimed singer and Tony Award-winning actress could provide. Lea Salonga hardly needs an introduction, as she has been a professional performer for 40 years (she is 48)and has graced both screen and stage, originating the role of Kim in Broadway’s Miss Saigon, playing both Eponine and Fantine in Les Miserables, and providing the singing voices for both princes Jasmine and Mulan in Disney’s Aladdin and Mulan, respectively. Salonga wrapped her role as Erzulie in the 2018 Tony Award winner for Revival of a Musical, Once on This Island. I knew I was walking into an incredible show, but it was beyond my expectations.
Lea Salonga is the consummate performer. She radiates talent and professionalism. Her voice is powerful enough to capture the attention of a full performance hall but gentle enough to make an audience member feel as though she is singing only to them. As somebody who grew up listening to Lea Salonga on as many cast albums and soundtracks as I could get my hands on, I was well aware of how perfect her pitch and tone was. But it is something else entirely to hear it live. Multiple times during her performance, I caught myself thinking, “She sounds better than a perfectly tuned instrument.” Her voice alone is enough to enchant and captivate an audience, but her stage presence and emotion is what continuously struck me throughout the night. Salonga has been performing many of these songs for most of her life, and yet she is still able to connect to each song on such a deeply personal level that one can help but become wrapped up in her words and emotions, and begin feeling the importance of the music themselves. To see the show live is to understand the power that music and art can have, and Salonga shares that skillfully with her audience. At the beginning of the night, she spoke about how relating to a character or a piece of music can be so important - in many ways, life-changing. She shared this tour was focused around strength, perseverance, and the belief in oneself. It is worth mentioning here that Salonga is currently recovering from a broken leg, and had to perform sitting down for the entirety of the show, something that she admitted was very different for her. But her ability to choose songs that made her feel strong and empowered, no matter what difficulties she is currently facing, certainly had an impact on the audience.
It was clear that she believed in the power of the lyrics that she was singing. Whether it was a passionate cover of “Go the Distance” from Disney’s Hercules, or a surprisingly touching and romantic acoustic cover of A-ha’s 1985 hit, “Take on me.” She told her truth with every performance and did it flawlessly. Kevin Axt on bass, Paul Viapiano on guitar, Ray Brinker on drums, and Larry Yurman on piano did a lovely job accompanying Salonga and bringing new life and energy to the music selected. Yurman's appearance was particularly notable. He was Salonga’s musical director. He would conduct the band while playing intricate and complicated piano pieces. This perfect combination of singer and accompaniment led to an enchanting night. The audience reminded of the many ways of how art connects us all. Music has the strength to empower. Lea Salonga, through her powerful and moving performance, showed audiences they're strong when they listen to the music within them.